Encouraging Trends

Europe's commercial operators and airports are becoming safer, and this could strengthen even more as a trend-unearthing pan-European occurrence database becomes more relevant, European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) latest safety review indicates.

The 2012 Annual Safety Review shows that EASA member-state (MS) commercial operators were involved in 34 accidents—one fatal—in 2012, up from 30 in 2011 and an average of 25.2 for the 10 years ended in 2010. The increase was one of the few notable negatives in the report, released in June.

Last year's lone EASA commercial operator-related fatality occurred on Nov. 11, when a ground handler became trapped between a belt loader and the rear cargo door of a TAP Air Portugal Airbus A320 at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. The one fatal accident matched 2011's total and came in below the previous decade's average of 3.4 fatal accidents per year. The last year with multiple fatal accidents involving EASA MS commercial aircraft was 2007.

European airport safety also is improving, data in the report suggest.

EASA MS airport design issues did not factor into a single accident or serious incident in 2012, after contributing to a total of 15 occurrences from 2008—the first year aerodrome data was included in the report—through 2011.

Runway excursions dipped to 17 in 2012 after averaging nearly 21 for the previous four years.

Ground collisions were four, just below the previous four years' average and half of 2011 totals, while ramp accidents and serious incidents also were four, matching the 2011 total and well below the four-year average of just under seven incidents per year.

Runway incursion rates, which EASA classifies as a subset of air traffic management (ATM) occurrences and measures per million aircraft movements, showed mixed results in 2012. The occurrence rate for “serious” incidents dipped slightly year over year, while the rate of “major” incidents increased slightly. Exact figures were not given.

Meanwhile, Europe's goal of creating a database of aviation occurrence reports from across the region that aids in spotting broad safety trends is nearly met, as both data quality and reporting consistency improve.

The European Commission's (EC) European Central Repository (ECR) has amassed nearly 665,000 aviation occurrence reports since 2005. The number of reports each year increased as more countries began contributing; 2011 marked the first year all 31 EASA MS sent reports. The database lists 90,000-120,000 occurrences from each of the last four years, compared to 70,000 or fewer per year from 2005-08.

While the quantity of reports is improving, quality remains a concern. Nearly half, or 48%, of the occurrence reports lack basic trending data, such as the type of operation—airline or general aviation—involved in each incident. Another 45% of the reports involved commercial transports, by far the largest identifiable category.

Each occurrence record lists specific details, such as the category of occurrence—air traffic management, bird strike, etc.—and the result.

The largest subset, about 20% of all occurrences in the database, fall under the nebulous “other” category. Further analysis showed that many of these were medical situations with passengers or crewmembers, leading EASA to create a new category. The most common identified occurrence categories in the database are ATM/CNS [communications, navigation surveillance] (about 100,000 occurrences), system/component failure—non-powerplant (50,000), ground handling (30,000) and bird strike (30,000).

Top results of reported occurrences were aircraft return and missed approach (about 11,000 each), rejected takeoff (7,000), diversion (5,000) and declared emergency (4,000).

A “network of analysts” from EASA, Eurocontrol and the EC pore through the ECR data, EASA explains. The analysts review and attempt to improve the quality of existing data and the reporting efforts. Eventually, ECR-related findings will be combined with other information sources to help EASA prioritize safety improvement efforts.